Hearing Loss in Seniors
Age Related Hearing Loss
Most hearing loss in seniors is from aging and is called presbycusis. According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), this is one of the most common age-related problems that afflict the elderly and it is estimated that 1 in 3 seniors in the United States between ages 65 and 74 show some hearing loss. Almost half of US seniors over age 74 have problems with hearing. Most of the age-related changes take place in the inner or sometimes the middle ear, but there can be other reasons like changes that interfere with the nerves that pass between the ear and the brain.
Hearing Loss can Erode Quality of Life
When hearing loss develops to the point where seniors really have difficulty hearing, then it can begin to erode on their quality of life. People don’t hear the phone or doorbell ringing, don’t hear smoke alarms and don’t clearly hear what people are saying to them. It can be very discouraging to constantly have to ask people to repeat what they said or to speak louder. This can lead to feelings of isolation in seniors afflicted with hearing loss.
Noise Related Hearing Loss
There are sometimes other reasons for hearing loss like exposure to noise over a long period of time or damage from loud or long-lasting noises. In fact many seniors suffer from a combination of age and noise related hearing loss.
Sometimes shingles herpes zoster attacks the facial nerve, usually on only one side of the face, and can lead to facial paralysis and deafness in the ear on the affected nerve. This is known as Ramsay Hunt syndrome herpes zoster oticus.
High Blood Pressure and Diabetes
Medical conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes can also contribute to hearing loss.
Drugs that can Damage Ears and Cause Hearing Loss
Some of the most common over-the-counter drugs that can lead to hearing loss are:
Aspirin – 8-12 pills a day
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like naproxen and ibuprofen. These can also cause damage to the eyes leading to vision loss and have many other dangerous side effects.
Some of the prescription drugs that can lead to hearing loss are:
Drugs to treat high blood pressure and congestive heart failure like loop diuretics, furosemide (Lasix) or bumetanide (Bumex).
Some kinds of antibiotics, especially those known as aminoglycosides that include neomycin, gentamycin and streptomycin can cause hearing difficulties particularly in people suffering from kidney disease or who have a history of hearing loss.
Chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer like bleomycin, cisplatin and cyclophosphamide can damage the ears and lead to hearing loss.
ENT and Audiologist
It is imperative to have a proper examination by an ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT) to get an accurate diagnosis. No one should just assume their hearing loss is from aging and not take it seriously, especially if the loss is only in one ear. Sometimes it can be from something more serious like a tumor. The ENT specialist may send patients to an audiologist or clinic for hearing tests. Special ear phones emit various noises in different pitches. One has to raise their hand every time they hear a noise. The ENT may also order ultrasound, MRI or other tests to find out the exact cause of the hearing loss.
Devices to Assist Hearing
Though it will not restore hearing loss, many seniors can be helped with a hearing aid, which is a tiny battery-operated device placed in the ear, ear canal or behind the ear and it magnifies sounds. Most insurance companies do not pay for the cost of a hearing aid, but some do. Medicare does not pay for hearing aids for adults, but will cover cost of diagnostic tests that are ordered by a doctor. Most companies will agree to a 30-60 day trial period for a hearing aid, and will refund the cost if the hearing aid does not work out.
In cases of more severe hearing loss, the ENT physician may suggest having cochlear implants in one or both ears. These will not restore hearing in someone who is deaf, but can offer a sense of sound that may help a person to understand someone speaking to them face-to-face or over the phone.
Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA)
A bone anchored hearing aid (BAHA) is surgically attached behind the ear and sends vibrations from the skull to the inner ear. Medicare will pay for these.
Preventing Hearing Loss
Ear plugs should be used around places where there is very loud or ongoing noise.
Since smokers have more problems than non-smokers it pays to quit smoking.
Headphones can also damage the ears and lead to hearing loss, especially if they are too loud or used for a long period of time.
Most hearing loss in seniors is age-related, but a true diagnosis must be obtained by seeking the help of an ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician. Steps can be taken to prevent hearing loss from noise-related hearing loss. Physicians should be informed if patients have hearing difficulties, so they will prescribe drugs that do not damage the ears and adversely affect hearing. Hearing aids and implants can usually help seniors hear better, but they do not restore hearing loss.
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